Grasping Agility: Why I’ve moved away from Agile Zealotry, and you should too

My introduction to Scrum was when I was working in a support department. Our manager had heard of these marvelous “stand up meetings”, which he proceeded to implement for us. They consisted of the entire department standing up for 20-30 minutes and listening to him talk about a variety of subjects, but mostly just ranting about what we were doing wrong.

It wasn’t until years later when I was actually working with real Scrum teams and helping people to both understand the 15 minute timebox on the Standup, and to enforce it, that I realized what it was he had been doing to us. I’ve since seen far too many instances of that type of thing happening, and it took me some time to temper my reaction to destructive Standups.

After I lost my initial thought that scrum was simply some sort of developer revolt against accountability, and actually started understanding what Agile actually was, I must admit I became a bit… zealous.

“NO! Don’t do that.”  “You need to do this!” “Stop that, it’s wrong!” “Mom, Dad, it’s evil, don’t touch it!”

Problem is that by and large people don’t react well to that. As agilists, scrum adherents, beacons of common sense, or whatever else people who get agile want to label ourselves as, we also need to cultivate a gentle understanding of exactly how massive a shift in thinking Agile is to those around us.

We need to remember that we are suggesting that they throw away the book of rules, the best practices that ‘guarantee’ success, the numbers on the paint by numbers kit. We are taking away the artifacts that have made failure bearable for the past 4 decades. We are telling people to go cold turkey from old comfortable security blankets like Gantt Charts and the happy delusions of fixed release dates that everyone knows will not happen, but everyone agrees not to talk about.

We are telling people that it’s OK to list off all the problems in our organizations, all of them, with the understanding that many of them will never be fixed. In a culture where problems are only surfaced when they can no longer be ignored that’s a difficult thing, an uncomfortable thing. Visibility into what is really going on is both scary, and can be nerve shattering for the manager or executive who’s been conditioned to believe all visible problems must be fixed right now. If they didn’t need to be fixed they wouldn’t be visible after all.

As as a fellow freshly inducted into the mysteries of Agile Thinking I must say I was not properly equipped to help folks along as gently as they needed to be. I’ve since learned that the gentle touch is all important. In particular because Agile today is mainstream enough that too many people think they know Agile, but really don’t know what they don’t know.
If you are new to Agile or Scrum, and excited about it, or just facing what seems like an impenetrable wall of old habits, assembly line thinking, and something akin to open hostility towards agile, please think about what is going on in the heads of the people around you who haven’t arrived at a true understanding of this thing we call Agile. It’s going to take time, gentle but firm correction, and more time before everyone comes around.

Well, time, retirement, and some companies going under because they can’t or won’t adapt. Harsh words I know, but truth is often harsh. Agile Software Development is here to stay, it’s not just a good idea, it’s the way things are now. It may be another 10 years before everyone comes to terms with that, but come to terms with it they will.

So for now, be firm and gentle about the Agile principles you know to be right. Just keep in mind that it’s a big change for most people in our industry, and humans don’t much care for change by and large.

Caleb Brown

Caleb Brown is an Agile trainer, organizational coach, and Certified Scrum Professional with a focus on the the “People Side” of software. While practices and technology are part of what enable organizations to succeed with Agile, Caleb likes to concentrate on using the cultural piece supported by whatever practice, process, framework, or technology is needed to be successful. Having worked on the technical side of the software industry since 1999, and as CollabNet’s Product Owner and Master ScrumWorks Trainer since 2007, Caleb has gained deep insight into the inherent challenges with Agile adoption. His trainings and expertise in helping global organizations understand where process ends and tooling picks up, is well respected and highly sought after.

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One comment on “Grasping Agility: Why I’ve moved away from Agile Zealotry, and you should too
  1. Lee Allison says:

    Good point Caleb! Too many time people forget that there’s a PRINCIPLE behind Agile that without it… it can be worse than waterfall. Good article, thanks!

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